A Pennsylvania state forest
Nicholas A. Tonelli
When Pennsylvania’s Republican governor looks at this, he sees green.

Pennsylvania has already leased out to frackers nearly half of the state forestland that sits above Marcellus shale natural-gas reserves. The rest is considered environmentally sensitive or difficult to access, and it has been protected from fracking since a Democratic governor imposed a limited forest-fracking moratorium in 2010.

But Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who took office in early 2011, thinks it’s time to frack the whole damn lot. He proposes opening up those lands to leasing, which his administration says could raise $75 million a year. The first year the money would go toward the general fund, but they say in subsequent years it would go to state parks and forests. 

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association loves Corbett’s proposal, which one of its officials described as being “way overdue.” Some Democrats and environmentalists, however, are not so sure. They’re particularly suspicious of claims that the fracking could be done without disturbing the park land. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review explains:

Natural gas wells would reach deposits under parks and forests through horizontal drilling from sites outside.

“There is no increase in overall surface impacts,” said Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s deputy chief of staff for energy issues. An executive order would be issued to ban leasing that could result in surface disturbance, Henderson said. …

John Hanger, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former state environmental regulator, cautioned there is no such thing as no-impact drilling: “More drilling always involves more road construction, more pipelines, more truck traffic.”

Other advocates for the environment expressed skepticism.

“This will place more and more of the budget burden on the backs of public lands,” said Cindy Dunn, CEO of PennFuture.

Worried? Don’t be. The oil and gas association claims it’s unlikely that any drilling company would ever want to work in the most sensitive areas. Because, you know, they care.